It’s 2:30pm and the florescent lights in my classroom are flickering ominously.
It’s been another long day and my patience dried up around 2nd period. I broke up a fight in 5th and spent the afternoon emailing a parent sending my condolences because one of my student’s grandmother had died.
Then there was the Inauguration.
My students were fidgety, the buzz of what would come in the next 4 years looming over our heads like a muddled storm cloud.
But I was optimistic. For a reason unknown to me I felt a surge of rebirth at the start of 7th period. It was a project work day. My upperclassmen Psychology class would be working on their “Build-A-Brain” projects today.
I unearthed an unusual amount of crafting supplies from my closet.
“Alright y’all,” I said enthusiastically. “I’ve got paint, I’ve got glue, I’ve got Popsicle sticks, string, a hot glue gun -about the glue gun please be careful, I’ve burned myself on this thing at least 5 times this year…”
I set them to work; my hope in humanity revived as they reached for paint brushes and rifled through old magazines for pictures.
“Miss, can we add a Cerebellum to our brain?” A student asked.
“A Cerebellum?” I said. “Well of COURSE you can add a Cerebellum, Christine! That’s my favorite part of the brain!”
As I watched their creative gears turning madly I began to feel hopeful. I loved these kids. And they loved me. It was now 3pm on a Friday and we were happily working to create visual representations of our own beautiful brains.
I turned around to see Michelle painting her hand purple.
“What are you doing, my little angel?”
“Oh, I’m painting my hand,” she smiled. “I like how the paint and brush feel on my hand.”
It was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen take place in my classroom. This was a room filled with 17 and 18 year olds yet she was as pure and innocent as a Kindergardener on the first day of school.
I wanted to capture her in this moment; so happy and messy like a child.
So I took my phone from my drawer. I opened Snapchat to videotape her and her purple hand.
“Whatcha doin’, Michelle?” I asked holding down the record button.
“Painting my hand,” she said.
“How good of a teacher is Ms. H?”
“She’s the best,”
“That’s right, she’s the best because she let you paint your hand. That’s right.”
I sent the video to my closest friends and put the phone back in my pocket. I laughed with her and the others at their adorable nature then handed them my Clorox wipes.
“Now don’t get any of that paint on your sweater or your mom’s going to kill me,” I fake scolded.
It was moments like these that I treasured more than anything; the tiny instances of a child’s kindness and innocence. It was all I ever wanted to hold onto that 10 seconds forever.
And now I could. I’d captured it on my cell phone.
I knew it wasn’t necessarily allowed to do these kinds of things in school, but it was for me. It was my own little record of how much I adored my students.
When thinking about the fact that I was not supposed to be using my cell phone in my own classroom I hastily took the phone out of my pocket and put it back in my desk drawer. I heard it hit the bottom of the drawer with a small thud.
I circulated back through the room to check in on students. Many of them were now ripping paper, gluing, and making an altogether fuss about which flavor of frosting to use on their brain cake. I joined them in their excitement and helped them think of creative ways to show me the functions of each lobe of the brain.
I checked back at the clock. Time had accelerated at unknown intervals.
“Alright folks!” I shouted over their buzzing. “Time to clean up! Man, time really flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? Just like that article we read on the first week of school about how the brain processes time –” I trailed off as we threw the craft supplies back into bins and I scoured the floor for trash.
“HEY, don’t you be leaving without your piece of trash and a smile, people! You owe me one piece of trash and a smile at the door and then you don’t even have to see me for 3 whole days!” I always tried to leave for the weekend with a spotless classroom. 7th period usually took one for the team and were tasked with finding every small scrap of paper on the floor before they were allowed to leave.
“…Piece of trash and a smile, thank you, Thomas. Piece of trash and a smile, Christine -and what a lovely smile, Christine! Thank you Jose, piece of trash and a smile, Clair have a lovely weekend –”
I probably sound like a fucking flight attendant.
As they exited I noticed a student packing up slowly, reminding me that I needed to print him the notes that he’d asked for earlier.
“Oh, don’t go anywhere, let me go pick up those notes off the printer for you!” I hurried out of the room, leaving him unattended. None of this crossed my mind as dangerous territory because I was so happy that I’d ended the day on a high note.
Now I could go home and binge watch The OA and make some mac and cheese with extra cheese.
The printer needed more paper, so it hadn’t printed his notes. I filled the paper drawer and waited patiently as the pages printed. I’d forgotten to only print the few pages he needed so the document printing was quite long. It was taking a while so I thought I’d grab my student so that he wouldn’t think I’d left him high and dry.
“Hey, sorry it’s taking so long,” I said as I walked back into the room. “Why don’t you join me in the office and then you can grab them when they’re done?” I attempted small talk for a few minutes.
The notes finally finished printing and I handed them to him happily.
“Here you go! Have a great weekend!” As I handed them to him he was already on the phone with someone.
“Hey, where you at?” He said to his friend. He barely made eye contact and jutted out the office door and down the hallway. He seemed just as ready to go home on a Friday as I was. No matter.
It was 3:30pm now and I was slowly reorganizing my craft bins and getting ready to leave. A few students rolled in to say goodbye to me and I remembered that as tired as I was today, we’d survived another week together. 22 of them to be exact. And we’d still have another 20 some odd weeks ahead of us to get to summer. But we were in this together.
As I packed up my bag I reached into my drawer to grab my cell phone. It wasn’t there.
Hmm, that’s odd. I thought. I could have sworn I threw it in there after Michelle painted her hand.
I checked my bag. Nope.
Jacket pockets. Nope.
Holy fucking shit where is my cell phone.
I’d done this sort of thing about a million times since my head injury. It’s normal for most people to misplace things, but for someone like me it’s a much larger problem.
If I don’t really focus on what I’m doing it wouldn’t be hard to put my keys in the freezer or leave my phone in the fridge.
I struggle with my memory on a minute to minute basis.
Okay, keep calm. I told myself. Walk backwards in a circle and retrace your steps.
I’d taken it out to record the painting incident. Put it in my pocket for a few minutes. And then put it…in my drawer right? Or was it in my bag? No, I already emptied my bag onto the floor five times already. Could I have hid it in the file cabinet? That’s insane. Yet I could see myself doing that...
I walked myself through all of the hypotheticals imaginable. All except the most obvious: theft.
A teacher friend walked by my room and I flagged her down.
“Hey, can you call my phone real quick?”
She called once and it rang through to voicemail. I crawled under my desk searching for the sound.
“I’ll call it again,” she said.
I waited anxiously for my phone to erupt from a pile of papers or fall from the ceiling tiles.
“Straight to voicemail this time,” she said.
“What does that mean?”
“It means whoever stole your phone just shut it off,”
I sank to the carpet. I couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t be. It was impossible. How could my students steal from me? A teacher who let them paint their hands purple and printed them missing notes on demand?
I sat in disbelief for several minutes thinking of what to do. I turned back on my computer and typed “FIND MY PHONE” into the search bar. I downloaded a Samsung tracker. The only problem was that it needed to be turned on and connected to WiFi to be tracked. No dice.
I went to my classroom phone and dialed my dad. One of 3 numbers I have memorized.
“Hi Dad,” I cried. “My phone’s been stolen, what do I do?”
It had never occurred to me what to do in such a situation. Should I call the police? Just go home? How do I contact someone if I get hurt? Send them a carrier pigeon? Are pay phones still a viable option?
Dad called T-Mobile to shut off the device and I sat in traffic in agony for the next hour. The entire drive home I lamented over who it could possibly be. It felt horrible; sitting there in my misery trying to decide which student had betrayed me.
When I got home I opened my laptop and went directly to the Samsung Search App. Within seconds of logging in a tiny flag popped up on the screen.
YOUR PHONE IS HERE. At the intersection of Colfax and Fulton.
On Colfax? What the fuck?
I typed in the intersection on Google Maps and a pawn shop popped up on the corner.
OH HELL NO, I shouted at my screen.
It was true. My cell phone hadn’t sprouted legs and taken a leisurely stroll down Colfax. A student had taken it from my desk and had sold it to a pawn shop within the hour.
Now at this point in the story I became Liam Neeson.
I immediately pulled up my 7th period roster and began Google Mapping each of their addresses to see who was closest to the pawn shop. I even called my phone using Skype credits (that I had to pay for…most expensive voicemail of my life) and left a threatening message.
“This is Ms. Hayes speaking. The OWNER of this phone. Now listen up and listen good. I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE. BUT I WILL FIND YOU.”
I took out the murdering part of the monologue because it’s kind of frowned upon to threaten to kill a student. Nevertheless, my head was reeling with excitement at finding the phone.
After calling the pawn shop from Skype it was discovered that another teacher’s phone (a friend of mine down in the art department where several of my students visited during my class to “get paper”) had been taken that same time, and she’d tracked her phone to the same store. I asked them if a young high school kid had come in that evening and they described him as a young black male, but that was all they could say. I later learned he was caught on tape at the school in the other teacher’s classroom.
I knew who it was. It was the student that I’d printed notes for after school. The one who’s life was finally turning around after being in jail last year. The one that was finally starting to show up to class. The one that wanted his missing work so that he could be successful.
As my dad tried to rifle through old phone boxes over Skype looking for my phone’s serial number I began to cry.
Of course I was distraught about being without a phone, but more than anything I was upset that he had hurt me. The phone had been wiped clean. The past two years of my life in pictures and videos and contacts and he’d destroyed them in an instant.
And worst of all he’d destroyed me.
I cried until my tears filled my mouth. I choked on them and spat them back out again. Two years of teaching in this classroom and I’d never felt this hurt by another person.
Someone that I believed in, trusted, and wanted the very best for in the whole world.
By the time my roommate came home I was all dried up. I’d used up my tears and was now drinking wine to re-hydrate myself to cry some more.
But then something amazing happened.
I didn’t know what time it was.
I’d begun my mac and cheese binge on the couch. Time had passed. But how much? I had no idea.
I also didn’t know if anyone was trying to get a hold of me.
I’d sent some panicked Facebook messages to my mom and a few select friends. But other than that nobody was talking to me.
I also wasn’t anticipating anything.
No creepy Tinder messages or parent emails to pop up on my bright little screen.
When I decided to go to bed I had no idea how I was going to wake up in the morning.
“Do you have,” I hesitated. “An alarm clock?” I asked my roommate.
“I don’t,” she said. “But you can use my old broken phone as an alarm clock if you want to,”
It felt ridiculous. It was almost as if time didn’t exist without my phone. I was no longer aware of it or how I was to keep track of myself in time and space.
In the morning I didn’t know how cold it was outside. I walked to breakfast with my best friend without a heavy jacket because I hadn’t checked my phone for the temperature outside.
When I drove to the Women’s March in Denver after breakfast I wasn’t positive where I should park or which route was the best to get there. So I just got in the car and drove to where I thought I should go.
When I got to the rally I couldn’t take pictures. I couldn’t Snapchat or Instagram or Tweet. I couldn’t share with the world that I was there or show them the amazing protest signs I saw. I couldn’t text my friends to see where they were so that I could stand by them.
Amidst 200,000 people I was somehow all on my own. Until I realized that I didn’t need my phone to enjoy the incredible historic scene before me.
I didn’t even need my phone to find my friends. I ran into my friend Patty and my work buddy Corey in a crowd of thousands.
And although I wanted more than anything to take pictures and share my experience, it forced me to truly be present. As I stood in that crowd with no way to contact anyone I listened to the words, “Women move mountains” over and over again as my heart filled with tremendous joy.
My student hurt me when he took my phone. He hurt me when I smiled at him as it sat in his pocket and he said nothing and he hurt me again when he cleaned out all of the memories in that small plastic device and sold it to a pawn shop.
I will never again see that video of Michelle’s purple hand or the countless loving texts from friends and family throughout the years.
But I will forgive him.
Because all I can hope for is that this student learns someday that he hurt me. And that life gets harder when you hurt the people that love you.
I cannot save him, nor do I want to. He will have to make this journey of life on his own.
And cell phone or no cell phone I will always cherish and love the moments I have with these students. The purple hands and the giggles and the tiny things that hold us together in this broken world.
I don’t need a phone to remember these things. I will always have these snapshots burned into my brain.